About Upper-Division ``Labs''

Most students enter upper-division courses with lots of experience with course-based “labs.” They may well come into your course with epistemological expectations of “labs” that are in conflict with the classroom norms you wish to establish. Specifically, students may well think that labs are a time when they are expected to come into class, take data according to a particular template, and go home to analyze their data and write-up a lab report. Of course, sometimes this may be exactly what you want them to do. But, when this is not what you want, particularly if you want small groups to spend considerable time in-class analyzing what they have done, we have found that there is considerable advantage to not calling the experience a “lab,” but rather to call it a small-group activity.

Therefore, we have attempted in this wiki, to write up most classroom experiences as “small group activities,” unless the “lab” epistemology is explicitly called for. There are, however, many cases where your academic scheduling constraints may force you into a lab-mode. In this case, you may find it advantageous to combine several small-group activities into a single “lab.” You can find below a list of such groupings that we have occasionally found useful.

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